People who have had their brains cryogenically frozen could be ‘woken up’ within three years, a pioneering Italian surgeon has claimed.
Professor Sergio Canavero, Director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, is aiming to carry out the first human head transplant within 10 months and then wants to begin trials on brain transplants.
If the procedures are successful, he believes that frozen brains could be thawed and inserted into a donor body.
Hundreds of people who are dying or paralysed have had their bodies or brains cryogenically preserved in the hope that medical science will be able to bring them back to life and cure their conditions.
Although many experts are sceptical that huge organs like the brain can be thawed without damage, Prof Canavero said he believes the first frozen head could soon be resurrected.
“We will try to bring the first of the company’s patients back to life, not in 100 years. As soon as the first human head transplant has taken place, i.e. no later than 2018, we will be able to attempt to reawaken the first frozen head,” said Prof Canavero.
“We are currently planning the world’s first brain transplant, and I consider it realistic that we will be ready in three years at the latest.
“A brain transplant has many advantages. First, there is barely any immune reaction,which means the problem of rejection does not exist.
“The brain is, in a manner of speaking, a neutral organ. If you transplant a head with vessels, nerves, tendons and muscles, rejection can pose a massive problem. This is not the case with the brain.”
However Prof Canavero admitted that there could be physical and psychological problems which come with putting a brain in an entirely different body.
“What many be problematic, is that no aspect of your original external body remains the same. Your head is no longer there; your brain is transplanted into an entirely different skull.
“It creates a new situation that will certainly not be easy.”
However British scientists are skeptical about whether frozen organs as complex as the brain could ever be fully restored. When the High Court last year ruled that teenage girl could be cryogenically preserved, experts said the chances of revival were “infinitesimal”.
Clive Coen, Professor of Neuroscience at King’s College London, said: “The advocates of cryogenics are unable to cite any study in which a whole mammalian brain, let alone a whole mammalian body, has been resuscitated after storage in liquid nitrogen.
“Even if reviving that body were possible – it isn’t – all the complicated organs would have been wrecked from the start, and warming them up again would wreck them further.
“Irreversible damage is caused during the process of taking the mammalian brain into sub-zero temperatures. The wishful thinking engendered by cryogenics companies is irresponsible.”